Living With Interstitial Cystitis
The chronic condition of interstitial cystitis (IC), sometimes called painful bladder syndrome, is often mistaken for urinary tract infections (UTIs). Characterized by different types of discomfort, sometimes in the bladder or pelvis ranging from a mild burning sensation to rather severe pain, interstitial cystitis affects approximately one million people in the United States alone.
Although most people diagnosed with IC are women, the condition can also affect both men and children, and in any case, it has the potential to alter one’s quality of life, making it important to thoroughly explore all available treatment options.
The Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis
The symptoms and signs of interstitial cystitis may vary widely from one person to the next, and they may even change over time with great variations in intensity. Some people may also experience flare-ups caused by triggers that could include things like stress, menstruation, sexual activity, and seasonal allergies.
The most common symptoms of IC include:
– Chronic pain in the pelvic region, usually suprapubic, which, in women, is the area between the vagina and anus, and in men it is perineal, or between the scrotum and anus.
– Frequently urinating throughout both the night and day, but often only in small amounts. It is not unusual for someone with IC to urinate as many as 50 or 60 times each day.
– Pain in the pelvis during sexual intercourse, or painful ejaculation.
– The frequent and urgent or persistent need to urinate.
For some people, symptoms are limited to urinary problems and they experience no pain at all, while for others, both persistent pain and frequent urination are a part of coping with interstitial cystitis.
Living with Interstitial Cystitis
While there is not yet any one single treatment or remedy for interstitial cystitis that completely eradicates the condition, or one that works for every person, there are, fortunately, several different types of therapies and medications to help bring about relief.
There are a few kinds of oral medications known to help improve the symptoms of IC and include ibuprofen such as Advil or Motrin, antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratadine (Claritin), and tricyclic antidepressants including amitriptyline and imipramine.
Ibuprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) may help to minimize pain, and antihistamines are used to reduce the frequent need to urinate while the tricyclic antidepressants work to block pain and also relax the bladder. Also, a relatively new medication, pentosan (Elmiron), has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifically for treating interstitial cystitis, although the actual reason the drug is effective is still mostly unknown.
It is thought that pentosan may help to restore the inner lining of the bladder, protecting it from those substances within the urine that cause irritation. It may also take anywhere from two to four months for pentosan to begin having a positive effect in terms of pain reduction and as many as six months before frequent urination is noticeably decreased.
In the most severe of cases, surgical options may be considered as an absolute last resort mainly because even removal of all or even parts of the bladder doesn’t help to alleviate pain.
A resection of the bladder might be needed, which is a minimally invasive procedure used to cut away any ulcers that have formed, however, this has the potential to actually worsen symptoms over time. A bladder distention, which is stretching the bladder with either gas or water to bring about relief from symptoms, may work for some people, but not all, and will need to be repeated once the effect has waned.
There are also numerous lifestyle changes and home remedies to help making living with interstitial cystitis a bit more manageable. Bladder training involves techniques that aim to reduce frequent urination such as using the clock as a guideline for when it’s time to go to the bathroom rather than waiting for the urge. Begin by using the bathroom at certain intervals, say every half hour, even when you don’t “have to go,” and gradually lengthen the time between intervals.
Relaxation techniques like rhythmic breathing and methods of reducing stress including visualization, biofeedback, and low-impact exercises can all greatly help with bladder training and retraining the body to successfully control the urge to urinate.
Make it a habit of wearing loose clothing to avoid putting pressure on the bladder and abdomen, and if you smoke, stop as this may be contributing to the problem causing extra damage to the bladder.
Although interstitial cystitis has the potential to make many aspects of life more difficult, not to mention the pain, experimenting and finding the treatment methods that are most effective for you and getting support from friends and family, despite the nature of the topic at hand, are the best ways of coping with this chronic condition.